The wife of the prime minister of Lesotho is to be charged with murdering his previous wife. First Lady Maesaiah Thabane handed herself in to be questioned by police in the southern African mountain kingdom. Prime Minister Thomas Thabane has also been questioned about the killing. His estranged wife, Lipolelo Thabane, was shot dead outside her home in the capital Maseru two days before his inauguration in 2017. The couple were involved in bitter divorce proceedings at the time. The attack was originally blamed on unknown armed men, but recent court papers filed by the country’s police commissioner, Holomo Molibeli, have raised further questions.
An arrest warrant was issued for 42-year-old Maesaiah Thabane on 10 January after she disappeared. She was “picked from the border” with South Africa on Tuesday after an arrangement between her lawyers and police, police spokesman Mpiti Mopeli told AFP news agency.
Police Commissioner Holomo Molibeli told the BBC that she was being held in custody and would be formally charged in court on Wednesday.
It is not clear if Maesaiah Thabane will apply for bail at the court appearance. Molibeli said police will oppose her bid if she does, as she is believed to be a flight risk.
Maesaiah Thabane’s lawyer, Rethabile Setlojoane, told the BBC he could not comment on the case. Eight others in Lesotho and South Africa are also reportedly facing charges over the murder.
Last month, Mr Thabane agreed to be questioned by the police. On the day he was questioned, hundreds of opposition supporters marched through the streets of the capital, Maseru, demanding his immediate resignation.
As pressure over the case mounted, Thabane announced his intention to resign on 16 January but did not specify a date when he would do so. Prime minister Thabane framed the decision to step down as retirement, making no reference to the allegations against him and his wife.
The governing party and the opposition have accused the leader of hindering the investigation into his previous wife’s murder. Thabane and his current wife have not yet commented on the case.
What happened to Lipolelo Thabane?
Lipolelo Thabane was killed just two days before Thabane was sworn in as prime minister in June 2017. The 58-year-old had been living apart from her husband since 2012. One evening while returning home, she was ambushed, shot several times at close range and died on the side of a road. The murder shocked the nation. Thabane described it as a “senseless killing” in his inauguration speech. Initially, unknown armed men were blamed for the murder, but new evidence filed in court papers surfaced in early January. The evidence, seen by AFP news agency, included a copy of a letter that the police chief wrote to Thabane.
The letter, dated 23 December 2019, read: “The investigations reveal that there was a telephonic communication at the scene of the crime in question… with another cell phone. The cell phone number belongs to you.”